I like how easily Americans can go talking to strangers. In the street, at the supermarket, at red traffic lights and even sometimes under the shower… It’s great to not have these barriers we can meet in western Europe.
Actually, it’s a « win-win » philosophy, as we’ve been explained by Mathieu, our lovely French host in San Francisco. You intrigues me with your bike, I come to speak with you. You’ve necessary something to teach to me. The Other carries a knowledge, or at least, an answer to a question. In Nepal or China, we talked about « white watching », here, we’re dealing with « foreigner talking ».
This way, among plenty, we met :
Harry, 70, a single-armed cyclist (the other lost at war) comes to meet us at the car park of a discount supermarket in Crescent City. Intrigued by our bikes and fascinated by our travel, he talked to us about this America he his ashamed about, this America that talks only one langage, that never accepted the metric system and which makes war everywhere in the world. He’ll wish us a good trip by removing his denture to shake it like Queen Elisabeth saluting the crowd.
Jean-Guy and Viviane, lovely french-speaking couple from New-Brunswick, come to meet us while I’m washing my underarms above the only drain of the Westport-Union « environnemental » campsite. To maintain a minimal pressure, Caroline holds the water tank above me. Caroline is struggling, I am freezing and them, are talking to us about their fight to keep French as an official langage in Canada, about their travel in mega RV all comfort, and, when I wash the down part of my back as well as I can, they end up by teaching us the best bad words of the French East Coast.
But it’s also Aimee, Casey and their cute little princess we meet at a campsite in Olympic Peninsula. While I was building the tent and Caroline was figuring out there was nothing more for dinner than pasta and oil, we saw them arriving on their bikes. They where bringing us plenty of legs of big crab already cooked that Casey fished during the day! Not to tell you how gorgeous it was! This is the magic side of the trip, the situation can radicaly change in a few seconds!
Or, finally, while we were having a rest under the big pines in Oregon, a grandma, the housekeeper of a mobile-homes village comes out of her home to bring us bottles of chilled water and Mister-Freeze « for energy! » while recommending us to be very careful on the road.
It’s sure that among Americans, 315 millions, there is diversity, exceptions.
It’s sure we’ve also met the fat guy of 230 kg who parks badly his Toyota of the 2000’s on the Walmart car park, who walks painfully to the automatic doors to let him fall on the seat of a motorized char as a seal that makes his body bouncing to get the sea.
He’ll push the joystick of the cart to the donut shelves that he will buy by pack of 48 with his alimentary coupons provided by the State to 1/6 of the population. It’s a kind of evolution. But this guy, no, he won’t come to talk with us. He is desperately glassy-eyed. However he eats as much as his cracked gastric ring allows him, he is as sad as a toast fallen down on the wrong side.
There is also these drug addicts to meta amphetamines who, them, don’t need an interlocutor to have a conversation, to cry or scream while pushing their dirty chars between the Prius of the ecologists and the F350 of rednecks… America is the country of all the extremes. In this case, it’s a deep angriness we can read in their eyes.
And then, there is this guy in his 4×4 who don’t understand why there are all these assholes by bike bothering him on his way home-work-shooting club. What gives us the right to use HIS road? In addition, he doesn’t have time. But we have to understand him. 2 weeks of holidays per year, shortened by 5 days of sick leave when he had to do some exams for his heart that will never last to the retirement. In any case, he doesn’t have an insurance to pay for it. So, we clear the way, and we breathe deeply the black deep exhaust gas he belches to us, as well as his risen middle finger, as the only langage he knows.
Sometimes, to tell you the truth, this easiness to talk can be disconcerting. And, by the way, the sacrosanct closing formula « good morning/good evening » is definitely not observed here. But finally, why not, it’s like asking « how are you? ». No one listen the answer… Here, the speaking seems to be free. If you want to talk, you talk. No rules, no stress. After all, isn’t America the country of freedom ?
But let’s be honest, in my opinion, freedom in America, they built statues about it and that’s all. Nothing more. Gifted by France, the Statue of Liberty should be free of its torch and tablet to point the finger at this America where the only freedom is to consume. Freedom to pay water more than Coca Cola, freedom to pay your burger-fries less than a pound of tomatoes, freedom to belong to a system that make you fat until death, freedom to eat a disgusting pasteurized milk cheese made in Florida scandalously called « camembert », freedom to live in a bleached world with enriched flour and orange juice with synthetics vitamins, freedom to spie your neighbors and denounce them to the sherif, freedom to go to watch only American movies at the cinema (Really, you, French, you did other movies than Amelie Poulain?), freedom to be considered as an asocial if you don’t belong to a community and lend you garage for caritative activities on Sunday afternoon, freedom to water your lawn while water restrictions, freedom to crimp your fence of a « no trespassing, trespassers will be prosecuted » panel, freedom to remove the Evolution Theory from the school books, freedom to send your son to (being) kill (ed) on the other side of the world to maintain an unipolar world… What I think about this, is that their Freedom, it’s like their statues : very beautiful from outside but empty inside.
However, we’ve never cycled more than in USA. The wind in the hair, we raced the kilometers with noting else than the Brompton. So good to eat the road as big sandwich. A 2000 km sandwich, from Vancouver BC to San Francisco. For sure, an American sandwich!
But sometimes, after hundreds of kilometers, after seeing the road scrolling under my handlebar, I start wondering if it’s not the road that moves forward instead of me. It seems like it’s the asphalt and the gravels that are unfolding below our immobile mount. By travelling too much, you loose your own frameworks.
You don’t remember exactly where you’re going and why. The ink got dissolved, the message isn’t clear anymore. Besides all, we follow desperately this ghost. « Keep going »is the only thing that matters. We move forward besides everything we cross. Beyond any logic. Simply motivated by the blur hope that home and rest are at the end of the way.
Sometimes, I fear to be like Ray Garraty, the hero of this Stephen King book : The long walk. It’s the story of a game, a race of 100 young people have to walk and never stop through USA during several days. A bullet in the head for anyone who stops. At the end, last survivor, Ray crosses the finish line but doesn’t stops. Like held by this irrational willingness that brought him until this point, by an obstination stronger than anything else, and while he can finally stop, he starts running.
I’m afraid that it happens the same. The versatile intention that brings us a little bit more far everyday will be probably stronger than the destination.
I come back to reason when I see those travelers that never stopped. 65 years old and still on the road. No family of almost, no roots. I see them like a buoy that broke its rope and drift. Fortunately, our way is a race, not a flight.
Many books of scientific vulgarisation talk about the Twins Paradoxe. We are a little bit like this twin left for a big trip. Let me explain.
One leave for a round-the-galaxy trip, at the speed of the light or almost. The other stays on Earth. 5 years later, when the twin traveler come back on Earth, he only got old of 2 years more. Meanwhile, the one who stayed on Earth really got his 5 years more. This is one of the temporal paradoxes explained by general relativity.
Will happen the same for us ? We will be older, for sure. With the sun that burns our skin since the departure, I think that, according to this point of view, it will be the opposite.
So disconnected from our families, birth and death, breakups and meetings, what happens in the society, trends, jokes we cannot do anymore, words we cannot use anymore, the price of the croissant, of the baguette and of the café noisette, everything that happens in the society, in the world and in France… It happens many things on our Brompton planet but nothing to compare with yours ! And believe me, it’s not the news we sometimes receive on our mobile phones that describe us less or more the evolution of the society, that allows us to understand the complexity on the world.
Will we be this twin who didn’t got old at the same time as the world ? Will we be this twin full of obsolete frameworks ? Will we be able to jump again into the bus ? We wonder, we don’t really know. But I think we secretly dream that we’ll be back after the next presidential elections in France, the next Football World Cup (sorry), the Koh-Lanta season and the death of Johnny Halliday.
If America is not the country of freedom, as we previously mentioned, it’s the country of encounters. We cycled for many miles with Sara from Kansas and her explosive good mood and her beautiful smile at 1m 80 above foot level. With Mathias from France and his 3 wheeled funny bike, with Anne from Switzerland who joined us for 3 days of very pleasant ride and gorgeous european-style picnics, and finally with Pauline et Christophe from Belgium with whom we had lot of fun by driving crazy the cowboys of the road, called here « sherifs ». Such a pleasure to feel being surrounded by friends and cycling together. Everything’s better : discussions, picnics, experiences.
And of course, not to mention all the one that opened their home and hearts to us. Gili, Maya and Neil, Rosemary and Jeff, Stéphanie and Zack, Michael et Margareth, Daimon, Betsy and Randy, Mary, Bruce, Laureen and David, Kathie, Emily and Chris, Grant and his family and Mathieu. All different but all with a big heart, a monolith of kindness in our trip. The route is definitely drawn by the encounters instead of by the roads we take. Finished maps, finished geography, this souls are our marks. I will never forget how Betsy, the tears in her eyes, hold us in her arms asking us to be very careful on the road. How David put in our backpacks some great energetic bars just before leaving, with which passion Emily led us barefoot to visit her henhouse or how Michael was waiting for us with 2 seats near by a cool box full of chilled drinks or how Matthieu took us to visit his secret San Francisco.
To be honest, America is also this : a wonderful sociability, a soul incredibly open. A strong desire to go further, to become someone, to free oneself.